You’re probably too young to remember the Cold War, so here’s a little history lesson for you. The Cold War was the longstanding ideological conflict between North London and South London which lasted from approximately 1945 to 1989. You can look up the full details on Wikipedia, if those trolls haven’t vandalised the articles so they talk about America and Russia again. Suffice it to say for now that it was a hard time to be a Londoner, and Yr. Humble Chronicler – having been raised in Twickenham – was under more than a little scrutiny by the Committee for Un-South-London Activities, headed by a young Ken Livingstone. Readers with long memories may also recall the time in the 1960s when London Bridge was dynamited by over-zealous North Londoners, an act that pushed the city to the brink of all-out conflict.
This entry isn’t about that. I have no particular wish to revisit those unhappy times, and I’m sure you don’t either. However, what this entry is about is directly linked to those turbulent days.
I refer, of course, to the Space Programme. Weapons technology on both sides was accelerating at an alarming rate, from the lorryload of fireworks in Tooting to that giant slingshot at Alexandra Palace. There were even rumours – though it’s not clear how much of this was propaganda – that scientists in a secret lab in Caledonian Road were working on the greatest “Yo Momma” joke of all time. It was rapidly becoming clear by the late 1950s that if the Cold War were to turn “hot”, it would be the end of life as we know it in London. The Space Programmes of both sides were a means by which awesome wartime technology could be put to peacetime use.
North London was the favourite to win this contest. It was more technologically advanced and had greater financial resources. Indeed, following a number of early triumphs, most notably the discovery that the Earth revolves around the sun in 1962 and the purchase of a stepladder in 1974, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion.
South London responded by going all-out to win, pushing ever-greater proportions of its resources into its own Programme. It was a surprise to all when, in 1980, victory was announced. On 6th September, astronaut Ken Barrett was successfully landed on the roof of a Clapham pub. Despite protests by North London and allegations of foul play, it was clear that, at last, the South had won the day.
Unfortunately, in doing so, its financial resources had been exhausted – plans to send a second rocket to get Barrett down were financially impossible. An attempt was made to raise money by selling Streatham, but alas, there were no takers. Ken therefore remains up there to this day, sustained by sandwiches thrown up from ground level. He was awarded the prestigious Hero of Southernism medal in 2003. When asked how he felt, he said, “I can’t hear anything in this helmet.”